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WTO NEWS: 1997 PRESS RELEASE

PRESS/73
29 May 1997

WTO adopts guidelines for recognition of qualifications in the accountancy sector

An effective means of facilitating international trade in accountancy services
The WTO's Council for Trade in Services today (29 May) adopted guidelines for mutual recognition agreements in the accountancy sector. These guidelines, which were produced by the Council's Working Party on Professional Services, are non-binding and are intended to be used by governments to make it easier to negotiate agreements on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.


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In adopting these guidelines, the WTO has concluded part of the work programme mandated in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Up to now, the most common way to achieve recognition has been through bilateral agreements. The GATS permits this as a derogation to its fundamental principle of non-discrimination. There are differences in education and examination standards, experience requirements, regulatory influence and various other matters, all of which make implementing recognition on a multilateral basis extremely difficult. Bilateral negotiations will enable those involved to focus on the key issues related to their two environments. Once bilateral have been achieved, however, this can lead to other bilateral agreements, which will ultimately extend mutual recognition more broadly.

These guidelines will also serve as an affective means of facilitating the movement of accountants across borders, and of avoiding the emergence of new disparities between recognition regimes around the world.

The text of the guidelines is attached.

GUIDELINES FOR MUTUAL RECOGNITION AGREEMENTS OR ARRANGEMENTS IN THE ACCOUNTANCY SECTOR

Introduction Back to top

This document provides practical guidance for governments, negotiating entities or other entities entering into mutual recognition negotiations on accountancy services. These guidelines are non-binding and are intended to be used by Members on a voluntary basis, and cannot modify the rights or obligations of the Members of the WTO.

The objective of these guidelines is to make it easier for parties to negotiate recognition agreements and for third parties to negotiate their accession to such agreements or to negotiate comparable ones. The most common way to achieve recognition has been through bilateral agreements. Article VII of the GATS recognises this as permissible. There are differences in education and examination standards, experience requirements, regulatory influence and various other matters, all of which make implementing recognition on a multilateral basis extremely difficult. Bilateral negotiations will enable those involved to focus on the key issues related to their two environments. Once bilateral agreements have been achieved, however, this can lead to other bilateral agreements, which will ultimately extend mutual recognition more broadly.

Where autonomous recognition is granted, it is suggested that the WTO be informed of the relevant elements in these guidelines for transparency purposes. Such elements could include, for example, those covered in sections B.3, B.4(a) and (b), B.5 and B.6.

The examples listed under the various sections of these guidelines are provided by way of illustration. The listing of these examples is indicative and is intended neither to be exhaustive nor as an endorsement of the application of such measures by WTO Members.

A.    Conduct of negotiations and relevant obligations under the GATS Back to top

With reference to the obligations of WTO Members under Article VII of the GATS, this section sets out points considered useful in the discharge of these obligations. A copy of Article VII is annexed to these guidelines.

1.    Opening of negotiations

The information supplied to the WTO should include the following:

    -    the intent to enter into negotiations;

    -    the entities involved in discussions (e.g. governments, national organisations in the accountancy sector or institutes which have authority - statutory or otherwise - to enter into such negotiations);

    -    a contact point to obtain further information;

    -    subject of negotiations (specific activity covered);

    -    the expected time of the start of negotiations and an indicative date for the expression of interest by third parties.

2.    Results

On conclusion of an MRA, the information supplied should include the following:

    -    the content of the agreement (if a new agreement);

    -    significant modifications to the agreement (if an agreement already exists).

3.    Follow-up actions

For WTO Members supplying information under paragraph (1) above, follow-up actions include ensuring that:

    -    the conduct of negotiations and the agreement itself comply with the provisions of GATS - in particular Article VII;

    -    they adopt any measures and undertake any action required to ensure the implementation and monitoring of the agreement, on their own account, and by the competent authorities, or, in pursuance of Article I of the GATS, encourage adoption of such measures and action by relevant sub-national authorities and by other organisations;

    -    they respond promptly to requests from other WTO Members seeking to enter into MRA negotiations.

4.    Single negotiating entity

Where no single negotiating entity exists, Members are encouraged to establish one.

B.    Form and content of agreement Back to top

This section sets out various issues that may be addressed in any negotiations and, if so agreed, included in the final agreement. It includes some basic ideas on what a Member might require of foreign professionals seeking to take advantage of an MRA.

1.    Participants

The MRA should identify clearly:

    -    the parties to the agreement (for example, governments, national accountancy organisations or institutes);

    -    competent authorities or organisations other than the parties to the agreement, if any, and their position in relation to the agreement;

    -    the status and area of competence of each party to the agreement.

2.    Purpose of agreement

The purpose of the MRA should be clearly stated.

3.    Scope of agreement

The MRA should set out clearly:

    -    the scope of the agreement in terms of the specific accountancy professions or titles and professional activities it covers in the territories of the parties;

    -    who is entitled to use the professional titles concerned;

    -    whether the recognition mechanism is based on qualifications, or on the licence obtained in the country of origin, or some other requirement;

    -    whether the agreement covers temporary and/or permanent access to the profession concerned.

4.    Mutual recognition provisions

The MRA should clearly specify the conditions to be met for recognition in the territories of each party and the level of equivalence agreed between the parties. The precise terms of the agreement will depend on the basis on which the MRA is founded, as discussed above. In case the requirements of the various sub-central jurisdictions of a party to an MRA are not identical, the difference should be clearly presented. The agreement should address the applicability of the recognition granted by one sub-central jurisdiction in the other sub-central jurisdictions of the party.

(a)    Eligibility for recognition

(i)    Qualifications

If the MRA is based on recognition of qualifications, then it should, where applicable, state:

    -    the minimum level of education required (entry requirements, length of study, subjects studied);

    -    the minimum level of experience required (location, length and conditions of practical training or supervised professional practice prior to licensing, framework of ethical and disciplinary standards);

    -    examinations passed (esp. examinations of professional competence);

    -    the extent to which home country qualifications are recognised in the host country;

    -    the qualifications which the parties are prepared to recognise, for instance, by listing particular diplomas or certificates issued by certain institutions, or by reference to particular minimum requirements to be certified by the authorities of the country of origin, including whether the possession of a certain level of qualification would allow recognition for some activities but not others.

(ii)    Registration

If the MRA is based on recognition of the licensing or registration decision made by regulators in the country of origin, it should specify the mechanism by which eligibility for such recognition may be established.

(b)    Additional requirements for recognition in the host state ("compensatory measures")

Where it is considered necessary to provide for additional requirements, in order to ensure the quality of the service, the MRA should set out the conditions under which those requirements may apply, e.g. in case of shortcomings in relation to qualification requirements in the host country or knowledge of local law, practice, standards and regulations. This knowledge should be essential for practice in the host jurisdiction or required because there are differences in the scope of licensed practice.

Where additional requirements are deemed necessary, the MRA should set out in detail what they entail (for example, examination, aptitude test, additional practice in the host country or in the country of origin, practical training, language used for examination).

5.    Mechanisms for implementation

The MRA should state:

    -    the rules and procedures to be used to monitor and enforce the provisions of the agreement;

    -    the mechanisms for dialogue and administrative co-operation between the parties;

    -    the means of arbitration for disputes under the MRA.

    As a guide to the treatment of individual applicants, the MRA should include details on:

    -    the focal point of contact in each party for information on all issues relevant to the application (name and address of competent authorities, licensing formalities, information on additional requirements which need to be met in the host country etc.);

    -    the length of procedures for the processing of applications by the relevant authorities of the host country;

    -    the documentation required of applicants and the form in which it should be presented and any time limits for applications;

    -    acceptance of documents and certificates issued in the country of origin in relation to qualifications and licensing;

    -    the procedures of appeal to or review by the relevant authorities;

    -    any fees that might be reasonably required.

The MRA should also include the following commitments:

    -    that requests about the measures will be promptly dealt with;

    -    that adequate preparation time will be provided where necessary;

    -    that any exams or tests will be arranged with reasonable periodicity;

    -    that fees to applicants seeking to take advantage of the terms of the MRA will be in proportion to the cost to the host country or organisation;

    -    that information on any assistance programmes in the host country for practical training, and any commitments of the host country in that context be supplied.

6.    Licensing and other provisions in the host country

Where applicable:

    -    the MRA should also set out the means by which, and the conditions under which, a licence is actually obtained following the establishment of eligibility, and what this licence entails (a licence and its content, membership of a professional body, use of professional and/or academic titles etc.). Any licensing requirements other than qualifications should be explained, e.g.:

        --    an office address, an establishment requirement or a residency requirement;

        --    a language requirement;

        --    proof of good conduct and financial standing;

        --    professional indemnity insurance;

        --    compliance with host country's requirements for use of trade/firm names;

        --    compliance with host country ethics (for instance independence and incompatibility).

    -    in order to ensure the transparency of the system, the MRA should include the following details for each party:

        --    the relevant laws and regulations to be applied (disciplinary action, financial responsibility, liability, etc.);

        --    the principles of discipline and enforcement of professional standards, including disciplinary jurisdiction and any consequential limitations on the professionals;

        --    the means for ongoing verification of competence;

        --    the criteria for and procedures relating to revocation of the registration of professionals;

        --    regulations relating to any nationality and residency requirements needed for the purposes of the MRA.

7.    Revision of the agreement

If the MRA includes terms under which it can be reviewed or revoked, the details should be clearly stated.

ANNEX Back to top

Article VII

Recognition

1.     For the purposes of the fulfilment, in whole or in part, of its standards or criteria for the authorization, licensing or certification of services suppliers, and subject to the requirements of paragraph 3, a Member may recognize the education or experience obtained, requirements met, or licenses or certifications granted in a particular country. Such recognition, which may be achieved through harmonization or otherwise, may be based upon an agreement or arrangement with the country concerned or may be accorded autonomously.

2.    A Member that is a party to an agreement or arrangement of the type referred to in paragraph 1, whether existing or future, shall afford adequate opportunity for other interested Members to negotiate their accession to such an agreement or arrangement or to negotiate comparable ones with it. Where a Member accords recognition autonomously, it shall afford adequate opportunity for any other Member to demonstrate that education, experience, licenses, or certifications obtained or requirements met in that other Member's territory should be recognized.

3.    A Member shall not accord recognition in a manner which would constitute a means of discrimination between countries in the application of its standards or criteria for the authorization, licensing or certification of services suppliers, or a disguised restriction on trade in services.

4.    Each Member shall:

    (a)    within 12 months from the date on which the WTO Agreement takes effect for it, inform the Council for Trade in Services of its existing recognition measures and state whether such measures are based on agreements or arrangements of the type referred to in paragraph 1;

    (b)    promptly inform the Council for Trade in Services as far in advance as possible of the opening of negotiations on an agreement or arrangement of the type referred to in paragraph 1 in order to provide adequate opportunity to any other Member to indicate their interest in participating in the negotiations before they enter a substantive phase;

    (c)    promptly inform the Council for Trade in Services when it adopts new recognition measures or significantly modifies existing ones and state whether the measures are based on an agreement or arrangement of the type referred to in paragraph 1.

5.    Wherever appropriate, recognition should be based on multilaterally agreed criteria. In appropriate cases, Members shall work in cooperation with relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations towards the establishment and adoption of common international standards and criteria for recognition and common international standards for the practice of relevant services trades and professions. Back to top